Photographs

Negative to Positive

(posted 05/11/2024)

Untamed is the best way to describe my process of creating cyanotypes. Sources for the images I develop outside with sunlight are quite varied, and the possibilities are so endless that I really have to reign it in every time I work on these. My cyanotypes are not just created with found objects like leaves and flowers, but I also create photo negatives from various digital images and then make the sun prints using the negatives instead. These negatives can start as photos I’ve taken with both my phone and digital camera, images of my finished art works, and some scanned images of antique ephemera. I also recently began to use photographs rendered with Midjourney Ai.

To make the process even more complex, each time a cyanotype is made from a negative, I usually change up the sun exposure time and/or the treatment of the paper. Manipulating the surface of the watercolor paper with additives like soap, salt, or vinegar can create really cool textures and effects. There is risk with additives though, since I don’t use them often I’m less sure of how the images will turn out. But that certainly adds to the fun of it all!

My creative process tends to be more intuitive than scientific, so I rarely keep detailed records when I change things up. “Mistakes” don’t bother me a bit. I’ve had several instances where I take a “bad” cyanotype and after adding beeswax and pigments it becomes a favorite Suncaustic piece. I scan most of my cyanotypes too, so that I can digitally alter them and use in other composite or mixed-media works. I’ve built up quite an interesting collection of digital images on my laptop over the years. You might even notice some of my favorite images show up time and again in different pieces.

Several of my recent cyanotypes began as digital negatives I made from Midjourney Ai images. I recently learned the technical term for creating these synthetic pictures using Ai: synthography aka synthetic photographs. My turning them into negatives and letting sunlight develop them gives them new life as cyanotypes. I like to think of it as a reincarnation of the Ai generated art when I take those images and put them through the age old cyanotype development process.

Here’s a sample piece I’m currently working on. It’s a self-portrait, inspired by how I felt as a young girl. Here’s the original photo I directed Midjourney Ai to generate:

Here’s the image after I digitally altered it on my computer. I flipped the image horizontally, cropped out some branches, added more cattails and the blue heron, and changed the whole color scheme.

This is the negative image I printed on a special translucent film:

And finally, the cyanotype image developed by the sun in 5 minutes just the other day.

The setting is similar to a pond we had on our property when I was young. It was always a big deal when we saw blue herons or cranes flying over the house on the way to the pond. I can still recall the stillness experienced whilst gazing up at the long, quiet flight of a crane over the meadow toward the welcoming water.

What Is Encaustic Medium?

(posted 02/22/2024)

I’m interested in finding a detailed answer to this question myself, actually. I’ve worked with encaustic medium for over 6 years now, and thought it’d be a well-deserved homage to my favorite art supply to delve into its history and how the medium is made and used.

Brief History of Encaustic

Beeswax is a preservative and has been used as such for thousands of years. We know the Greeks used it to protect and decorate their ships’ hulls as early as 500 BC. Going forward to the 1st-2nd centuries A.D., the Romans in Egypt used pigmented wax to paint portraits of the deceased, covering the faces and bodies of their affluent mummies. The 900 or so famous Fayum mummy portraits (one pictured below) are said to be very well preserved, retaining much of their brilliant color. Eventually, the use of encaustic in portraits gave way to a less expensive and easier alternative, tempera paint.


Mummy portrait of a young woman, Antinoöpolis, Middle Egypt, 2nd century, LouvreParis.

A resurgence of the wax painting came about in the 18th century, after archeological discoveries sparked interest in encaustic techniques. What ignited the use of the medium by artists even more in the 19th century was simply the invention of portable electric heat sources. Famous artists such as Jasper Johns, Diego Rivera, and Robert Rauschenberg are just a few who incorporated the medium into their work in modern times.

Encaustic Combinations

Since the 1990s, encaustic medium in art has become more attractive and popular as artists have discovered the myriad of ways to incorporate it into mixed-media processes and even into pottery and sculpture. This is what I personally find most fascinating about encaustic. It can be used with various other media to give an artist several paths he or she can take when attempting to master it.

Off the top of my head, I can think of a dozen different combinations to use encaustic in art:

1. Over a dried watercolor painting
2. Over a dried ink illustration
3. Over an inkjet print on matte paper (including photos)
4. Combined with cold wax
5. Combined with oil pastel
6. Combined with oil paint
7. As a ground for alcohol ink
8. Over fabric such as linen or silk
9. Over a collage
10. Over pottery
11. Over sculpture
12. Over a cyanotype (what I call “Suncaustic”)

The most important guideline I find when working with encaustic is the need to avoid pairing it with acrylics. But even that rule can be broken since I successfully use acrylic chalk paint as a ground at times.

Grounds for encaustic art vary widely according to artist preference. I usually use parchment or watercolor papers pasted to the wood canvas. Aside from that, I’ll occasionally paint encaustic gesso or acrylic based chalk paint over the wood surface before laying down the molten medium.


Encaustic Medium Sources

Image by CJ from Pixabay


I am pretty sure at most every art sales event, a beekeeper has kindly asked if I have need of beeswax. While I’m in awe of the beekeepers’ work and grateful for their care and service to the bees, I solely buy refined encaustic medium made by R&F Paints. It comes in tiny pellets which are easy to store and melt in small batches. The “refining” process filters out the organic matter left by the bees so the medium is quite clear.

Some artists create their own medium by mixing melted beeswax with melted damar (or dammar) crystals, then filtering out the organic matter manually. Damar resin (or gum) is a natural tree sap from lowland tropical trees in India and Southeast Asia. Adding more or less of the damar resin is known to result in a respectively harder or softer wax surface. I’ve never used a brand other than R&F, but will eventually to see if my surfaces end up more luminous with a different brand. I have seen some artists use only beeswax over a photo, and that works too, but the cooled surface won’t be as hard and resilient as when it contains damar resin.

While I use the clear encaustic medium in my art, I also use pigmented encaustic paints made by R&F and Enkaustikos. Very little of these go a long way since they can be diluted with clear medium. Combining pigmented wax with clear medium is also a great way to tone down bright colors or add translucency.

Care of Encaustic Art

Most of my art work made with encaustic comes with a label giving care instructions. Typically any fine art that has pigment will eventually fade in sunlight, so keeping all your art out of the sun’s rays will help them look their best for the longest period of time. Unfortunately, it seems encaustic has been avoided by some who fear it’s too fragile for them. I find it quite resilient once the wax cools and hardens. Sure if you take a sharp object and puncture or carve the surface, it won’t be the same. That would most likely be the case with an acrylic or oil painting too.

The worst thing in my opinion you could do with encaustic is leave it in a hot car. (Well, THE worst is to take a blow torch to it, but most people won’t accidentally do that.) Unfiltered sunlight can quickly cause the surface to glisten and perhaps even liquify, which is a good sign you should move it to the shade.

The melting temperature of beeswax is around 140F degrees, so I recommend avoiding storage in any area with such high temperatures. Encaustic medium (with the addition of the damar) melts closer to 200F degrees, so it’s a bit more resilient. Keep in mind some attics get very hot in the summer.

Avoiding storage in temperatures below freezing should be avoided too, some say. I’m not sure what will happen though. Right now I’ll stick an encaustic mini in the freezer overnight to see the results … I’ll share my findings with you at the end of this blog.

I’ve been asked if it’s ok to hang encaustic art in the bathroom – the short answer is yes since the beeswax acts as a protective barrier to whatever it covers. But that’s not the case with ALL encaustic art. For example, if you have a watercolor painting that’s only partially covered in encaustic, the humidity could do some damage to the unprotected watercolor. Rest assured, if I ever do make something that can be damaged by high humidity, I will note that on the label.

I believe wrapping encaustic art in tissue paper or wax paper and then bubble wrap is the best storage option, taking care that all the edges and corners are protected. I have seen a few encaustic artists on social media repairing chipped edges and corners for clients. Life happens, and maybe you end up accidentally damaging an encaustic piece. Chances are if you contact the artist or any experienced encaustic artist they can take a look and let you know if it can be repaired.

Cleaning encaustic art will really depend on the piece. As long as any art you bought from me was not covered with metal leaf, you can wipe it with a silky soft cloth (old nylons work great). Doing this can also bring back the shine on the surface should the piece lose its shine over time.

The results of the freeze test are in:

My encaustic mini looked the same as when it went in the freezer 8 hours before. I did a little more Google research on freezing encaustic art while I was waiting. I found that freezing them is a good test to see if the ground is compatible with the medium. If the surface easily chips or flakes off when frozen, an incompatible ground was most likely used. I think I can safely say that keeping them in a unheated area wouldn’t affect my pieces, but that can’t be said for encaustic art from all artists.

Sources:

Thanks to Wikipedia and R&F Paints web sites for many of the facts I shared above. Here are the linked sources I used, in case you want to read more. In fact, you can find many encaustic art teachers have very in-depth, interesting information about encaustic on their web sites.
Wikipedia: Fayum Mummy Portraits
Wikipedia: Dammar Gum
R&F Paints History of Encaustic

Holly Days 2023 at The West Woods

(posted 11/15/2023)

On November 3rd & 4th, I was busy selling my art and jewelry during the Holly Days Artisan Boutique held at the West Woods in Geauga County, Ohio. I have done a couple markets per year since 2021, and this was another success!

The event ran a few hours on Friday evening and most of Saturday. This was the first time I used my new gallery wall (a white folding pegboard) which held many of my original pieces on cradled wood canvas. The table was then freed up to hold a few more larger works, some jewelry, and a white lighted tree decorated with ornaments.

All around me the other vendors had beautiful displays of some art and lots of Christmas themed decor and candy. It was great to get the holiday season rolling so soon after Halloween. My husband was kind enough to come along and help me unload, set up, and make small talk with everyone. He even picked me up a delicious burger from Manna Food Truck at the end of the night. He’s a trooper and I’m always so thankful for his help!

I debuted all thirty-one birds of the Birdtober 2023 project at the event and sold twelve of them. I even got some orders for more ornaments including a bluebird, two herons, and a monarch butterfly. Since I was asked to create these birds, I decided to list them on Etsy – currently there you can find the bluebird, the blue heron, and the hummingbird in the Ornaments section of the shop. They are made to order so if you want them for gifts, get your orders in soon!

I ran another art giveaway at this event. Two of those who signed up for my email updates got the chance to win their choice of Birdtober ornaments. One winner chose the common tailorbird, and the other chose the goldfinch. I sent those out this week. If you’re interested in getting my studio update emails (about one per month), click here to sign up. If you change your mind, it’s easy to unsubscribe.

Art that Sold

The art pieces that sold at Holly Days were quite varied in subject and process. Following is the bulk of them with a comment on each one – they are in no particular order.

“Woodland Raccoon,” 8×8 in. wood canvas. This is the 2nd or 3rd version I’ve done. People fall in love with the face of this masked creature.

“Generations,” 10×10 in. wood canvas. I like this one so much I want to do more versions of it in the future. Ever since I read about “Hibaku,” the ginkgo has been a favorite tree of mine. Click here to read more about Hibaku.

encaustic wax painting ginkgo leaves

“Hinterland No. 7,” 8×8 in. wood canvas. This is not a picture of the exact one that sold, but it is another one of which I’ve made multiple versions. I like to place the fox in different settings and keep it somewhat transparent and ghostlike.

“Lilies of the Valley III,” 8×8 in. wood canvas. This is a piece done with Midjourney AI. After covering it with wax, I embellished it with some oil pastel. I did a similar one which is quite popular on Etsy.

“Orphic Landscape I,” 10 in. round wood canvas. This was an encaustic painting I did using a Midjourney AI image as a reference. A lot of AI looks surreal and I think that aesthetic comes through clearly in this one.

“Summer’s Edge,” 8×10 framed. This one was hard to let go. It ended up selling before the show even opened! I absolutely love making suncaustic works and plan to do many more – they always seem to bring out the best of my creativity.

“Moreland Meadow No. 8,” 9×12 in. wood canvas. This landscape always made me think of Ireland since it somewhat mimics the colors of the flag. It’s got some gold and it’s just about to reveal a rainbow. Moreland Meadow was a favorite place of mine that was captured in a few photos in 2020.

These last three on 6 in. round wood canvas were part of a Female Bird Series I did last year. I painted them with watercolor, then covered them with encaustic medium.

As always, I’m very happy when people stop by and look and ask about my work. I’m so grateful to those of you who liked my work enough to take it home. If you ever see a piece you’d like me to recreate, or have a request for something new, please reach out to me via email: rachel@wolfpupstudio.com

Starfish

(posted 07/15/23)

In late June we went on a trip to Emerald Isle, NC. It was my fourth time visiting North Carolina beaches, but my second visit to that particular area of the coast. I like it because there is lot of vegetation and trees there – I think that’s why they called it Emerald Isle in the first place, but I’m not sure about that. The coastline is called Crystal Coast and at times it looked like the Caribbean with white sand and jade greenish blue waters on the best sunny days. When the waves were too rough we stayed close to shore due to rip current warnings, but luckily the conditions got better as the week progressed and lots of boogie boarding ensued.

We visited the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores and I loved every minute of it! One highlight was the huge tank that had an actual old sunken marine vessel in it, surrounded by several species of fish, including sharks. I also loved to see the otters playing and various ethereal looking jelly fish in some other displays. When I was a kid, we had neighbors who had a huge aquarium in their living room – I remember being excited to see it every time we visited. I was a bit frightened of some of the creatures but mostly in awe. I still feel that way when I go to an aquarium or the sea, as I’m sure many people do. It really is like being in another world when you take time to be still and closely watch.

I was so inspired I created some encaustic pieces to commemorate the experience. They can be found in my Etsy shop linked here.

After traveling to many different beaches over my lifetime so far, it’s interesting to recall the various types of landscape, vegetation, and creatures I’ve come across with each vacation. New England beaches had a lot of rocks to explore at low tide when I was young, but the water was numbing from what I recall. During trips to the Caribbean I remember seeing the most sea life on a glass bottom boat tour and a snorkel outing, and seeing an iguana asleep in a tree is a sight I’ll never forget. On our honeymoon in Jamaica, we actually went on a night snorkel that was exhilarating, but we didn’t see much other than some bottom feeders. (When you are snorkeling at night with a flashlight, you just know a shark is following your every move!) Virginia Beach had lots of crabs scurrying across the sand and it was a lot of fun to stop them in their tracks with our flashlights. Holden Beach in North Carolina is a turtle sanctuary so there were no lights allowed after dark – that place is where we unfortunately discovered “no see ums” – if you know, you know! Florida is beautiful, but I can’t remember seeing a lot of nature on my trips there other than dolphins and the occasional gecko on a wall. Hilton Head is so full of people, I think the sea creatures have long gone – or at least left the areas where we stayed – it is interesting to see their birds and the occasional alligator there. On our trip to Jekyll Island, Georgia, last year we saw sea turtles at the local aquarium as well as several dolphins that came quite close to the boat.

Back to Emerald Isle – life on the beach there was enjoyable to me in so many ways, but mostly by combing through sea shells every day. Many shells are small and broken, but they are plentiful. Occasionally groups of pelicans flew by, but I didn’t see very many birds on shore. On a boat we took to an island near the Rachel Carson Reserve we did catch a glimpse of some wild horses. And during a sunset boat ride our last day there we saw several dolphins, and a couple of them did flips!

I didn’t go too far in the water for fear of the creatures I ironically love to watch. My favorite beach pastime was looking for what I call “sand puppies” (also called sand fleas or mole crabs). You can find them by digging under air holes left in the sand after a wave subsides – the sand puppies tickle your hand trying to get back to the wet sand. At low tide the tiniest fish get trapped in warm pools and my daughter was mesmerized watching dozens of minnows nibble at our legs. We tried catching some but they’re so small they went right through the net.

One very memorable day my daughter ran up to me carrying the net and dropped it to show me what was in her other hand – a big, beautiful live starfish. I asked her to put it back in the ocean after we took some video. You might think this a bit wacky, but whenever I see shooting stars I believe they are sent to me by my father who died when I was a toddler. When that happened I really felt like he was sending a gift to us and telling me he was glad to see me enjoying life with my husband and his granddaughter, both whom he never met.

Neighbors

(posted 05/20/2023)

I painted a piece inspired by one neighbor who happens to be a horse. It’s interesting to me that “neigh” is part of the word “neighbor,” and I have a horse as a neighbor. I’d like to know the connection between the two words if there is one. But that’s not very important to this story.

When I was a kid, I used to walk along route 534 and other roads in Windsor, Ohio, quite a lot. One of my earliest memories is when I ended up one early morning at our Amish neighbor’s farm up on a hill, west of our place. I was probably 4 or 5. The kids must have taken me on a tour of the farm because I remember coming very close to a massive bull behind a fence – I can still picture his huge head and the shiny bull ring in his wet, fleshy nose. I also remember being in their dawn lit kitchen and seeing a few of the young Amish girls. They were standing in a row at the sink in gauzy white gowns with their long hair draping their backs. They must have been washing the breakfast dishes. It was like seeing a row of angels in real life to me, and I’ll never forget it.

We had another neighbor down the south side of the road who was a retired history teacher, Mr. Loomis. He and his wife lived in a beautiful brick century home. On days I roamed, I would end up at their house more often than they probably liked. I sat next to Mr. Loomis in their front room while his wife made dinner. I even stayed once and ate with them, although it could have been more than once since I barely recall. He would mostly talk to me about history of course, especially local history since he was a descendant of a pioneer family in Windsor; my family were original settlers there too. Across the road was a barn where they kept a horse – a white pony actually – named Starfire. It was a real treat if he took me to the barn to see Starfire, and I would often stop to see her when I was older riding my bike past their place to Mespo.

I had some other neighbors who caught my curiosity as well. A teenage girl invited me to play with my Barbies while she smoked and played records in her room. To this day when I hear “Tiny Dancer” I think of her. Another Amish neighbor gave me ripe strawberries from her garden when I walked by as she was weeding. I barely ever see my neighbors now. I need to get out more.

When I lived in Hudson a decade ago, I craved living in the country again. We lived in what I call a fish bowl since all the back yards faced each other. One neighbor seemed friendly, but became less liked when he reported us for having an uncontained pile of yard debris. A teenage girl behind our house spent some time with my daughter, which gave her some fond memories. I would often drive by areas with pastures and farms longing to live among the peace and beauty, raising my daughter in a more laid back community. We finally found the perfect place in Auburn Township in 2014. And to make it even better, our neighbors happen to have two horses. For years I’ve been able to look out my window and see horses grazing behind the white fence – it’s quite picturesque.

Earlier this year, I noticed our neighbor across the road was putting up a fence. I figured they might be adding livestock or maybe even goats or llamas. But, I was so happy to see a few weeks ago a new horse was there behind the fence. This horse seems very friendly though. Every time we are outside with the dog he stops eating and comes to the fence to watch us, like he is saying hello. One early morning I saw a man walking down the road stop to interact with the new horse, most likely feeding him too. Even though he’s a tall chestnut colored horse, he reminds me of Starfire in his demeanor.

This new neighbor has been my obsession the last couple weeks in the studio. I set out to make an image that is simplistic with the calm, country feeling you have when you’re in the most beautiful parts of northeast Ohio. The piece began with encaustic medium over an encaustic gesso base. I then did most of the image in oil pastels and a bit of walnut ink.

As you can see, it has taken me a lot of time and trials but I’m happy with the result. The encaustic painting “Country Neighbor” represents my gratitude for all the farmers, horse and other livestock owners that are in our community. They make our surroundings so much more enjoyable, tranquil, and serene. I hope by painting this it will bring that same feeling into someone’s home. Follow this link to my Etsy Shop.

I’m excited to paint more horses. I drew them a lot when I was a kid. When I sit at my computer in my studio, I have a great view of my new neighbor – I can see him right now grazing between the trees. One of these days I’ll have to go introduce myself.

Midjourney AI Art Meets Encaustic, Part II

(posted 05/11/2023)

A few months ago I forayed into using an AI art generator called Midjourney. I tread very lightly into it, using basic image prompts and then referencing the output for three encaustic art pieces.

In this post I highlight the first which came from an AI image that is a watercolor of a pond in a field. When I was a kid, we had the most beautiful, tranquil pond in the acreage behind our home. This is the best I could get from AI to render an image of my memory.

Midjourney Art

Midjourney Art by Rachel Rivas-Plata

So I went to work covering a wood canvas with white pigmented encaustic medium. Then as you can see I carefully added powdered oil pastels called PanPastels. I also added some more white medium to bring texture and movement to the clouds. I wasn’t happy with the cattail-like weeds in the foreground, so I dropped in a great blue heron. In an attempt to render a more peaceful, quiet feeling I opted to remove the bird and went back to the blurred, blowing weeds.

Encaustic Process Photos

The last photo above shows how easily you can rework the wax once it cools. Scraping it off and then applying new layers has saved many pieces in my studio, and that’s another reason to love working with this medium. On one had one has to work very quickly while it’s melted, but after it cools it can be changed.

Encaustic Art

The final product is called “Adrift.” It’s on an 11×14 inch wood panel and if you don’t find it listed on my Etsy shop linked here, that means it has sold.

Related Stuff

Midjourney AI Art Meets Encaustic, Part I

Jekyll Island

(posted 11/28/22)

Here are some of my favorite photos from our Thanksgiving getaway to Jekyll Island, Georgia. The weather was cold and cloudy all week, but we made the best of it, taking in the scenery and touring some of the old cottages.

The Jekyll Island Clubhouse pictured here with some men playing croquet on the green. Designed and built in the 1880s by Chicago Architect Charles Alexander, it’s the most iconic building on the island.

Jekyll Island Clubhouse

This is one of the two cottages we toured. There were 16 unique cottages built by wealthy families on the island and 11 remain. Its name is Hollybourne and was the winter home of Charles Stewart Maurice, a civil engineer and bridge builder. The architecture incorporates bridge trusses and the exterior walls are made from tabby, a mixture of concrete, lime, sand, and shell.

A surprise to us was the abundance of seasonal decor and wonderful lighting done on the island – we were able to do the self guided Holly Jolly light tour with 7 of us packed into a golf cart. Sipping an Irish coffee in the middle of the tour was a necessary highlight.

This photo was taken from the pier where we boarded a boat to go dolphin watching. We did see several dolphins, and they came fairly close to the boat which was exciting.

Historic District Pier

Here’s one of several butterflies we saw one day walking on the shopping mall grounds on a warmer day. And the gopher tortoise’s shell had me in awe when we stopped in at a nature center.

Here’s the pristine beach on a partly sunny day. Unfortunately most days were too cold or windy to be on the beach but we were able to spend some time there.

Jekyll Island Beach Pavilion Park

I brought my Canon DSLR to take some photos at the eerie Driftwood Beach hoping to incorporate them into encaustic art in the coming months. I’ll leave you with some of my favorite photos from that beach in the rest of this post. Thanks for looking!

Moreland Meadow 2020

(posted 09/11/2022)

In spring of 2020, when society contracted and we eliminated in-person gatherings, I started a habit of walking each morning at dawn before work. My job in data analysis was sitting at a computer for eight hours or more, so the walks really helped me mentally and physically feel energized each day. In every direction from my house there is beautiful scenery, since I’m lucky to live in a rural community. My route quickly became ingrained down a side gravel road with overhanging tree limbs that provided some pretty canopies as I approached.

What I loved most was catching glimpses of creatures I don’t usually see or hear. An occasional car would drive by, but often times it was just me on the road with busy birds, camouflaged rabbits, and the occasional running deer. One day I found this young orange newt crossing the road and so I helped him to the other side.

I vaguely remember watching for a solar eclipse over the tops of the trees once. I sometimes would see a cat crouched by the side of the meadow on his early morning hunt.

Early last year, I was devastated when tree cutting services swept down the road and cut many of the beautiful trees lining each side. On one walk, a little bird became very aggressive with me, swooping over my head several times. I can’t help but wonder if it thought I was what took down those trees. This year, some homes were built on the meadows of Moreland Road where I often stopped to snap photos of wildflowers, sunrises, morning mist, and dewy spider webs. Now the gravel road is paved, and I stopped the walks.

I am fairly certain the lot where my current home is was once a meadow or forest. I am not guilt-free of this encroachment on nature, but it has been very sad to experience the loss. What I do still have though are many photos I took on my strolls in 2020. Here are a few.

I made several encaustic art pieces from them and have sold a few. The ones in frames are my favorites, and I don’t plan to sell them. As I look at these and enjoy the beauty of the photos and the memories they hold, I can’t help but be grateful for this silver lining to the cloud that came over us in 2020.